The only title the San Diego Padres won in 2021 was that of Most Disappointing Team. After a flurry of trades and acquisitions before the season, including pitchers Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove, the Padres collapsed in the second half of the season to finish under .500 in a full 162-game season for the 11th straight time.
General manager A.J. Preller started the healing process by firing the overmatched manager Jayce Tingler and replacing him with former Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin. But the team still has several issues to resolve as an abbreviated Spring Training gets underway Sunday. Here are the five burning questions the Padres must answer by Opening Day on April 7.
How many games will Fernando Tatis Jr. play this season?
Padres fans will undoubtedly be holding their breath on every swing and every dive Tatis makes this season after multiple stints on the injured list last season with a shoulder subluxation that only got worse as the season went on.
But Tatis opted to not have surgery this offseason, likely having seen how a similar procedure wrecked Cody Bellinger’s 2021 season. Presumably, the young phenom did his due diligence this offseason to protect the shoulder from further episodes, but it’s a cloud that will hang over the team all season. Tatis has yet to get through a full season (or even the 2020 shortened season) without at least one significant IL stint.
Who will be the closer?
Mark Melancon is gone after a rocky 2021 that started brilliantly for “The Shark,” but, shall we say, coincidentally became a struggle when the use of sticky substances were banned at mid-season. But even though Melancon broke down in a nightmarish second half last season, he was at least the constant in the back of the pen.
Entering Spring Training there is no set closer, and that will be one of Melvin’s biggest decisions. Drew Pomeranz has the chops, but is coming off an injury-plagued season. Emilio Pagan was a disaster in 2021. Robert Suarez had 42 saves in Japan last season, but can that translate to the National League? It’s just as likely the 2022 closer is not on the roster currently, if Preller is gonna Preller.
Is MacKenzie Gore ready to make the leap?
The Padres hired Ruben Niebla as their new pitching coach after last season, and he comes as highly-regarded as any non-manager in the game. And the early word before the lockout was that the Pitcher Whisperer had worked his magic on Gore, who has seen his prospect stock sink like a stone the past two seasons.
Gore was once the top pitching prospect in the game, and if Niebla has fixed his mechanical issues and restored his confidence, this could be the year Gore finally cracks the Major League roster and gives the team a much-needed chunk of quality innings. If not, don’t be shocked if Gore gets packaged in a trade before the July deadline.
Who will play left field?
Padres Twitter lit up like a Christmas tree on Friday when pitcher Yu Darvish tweeted out a photo of him posing with prized Japanese League outfield prospect Seiya Suzuki with the caption, “New Padre?”
The Padres are hardly alone in pursuing Suzuki, who hit 38 homers in 2021 and produced an eye-popping .317/.433/.639 slash line for the Hiroshima Carp. But if the Darvish connection titled the scales in San Diego’s favor, it would take care of one of the major pressing roster questions the team has entering the season. An outfield of Suzuki-Trent Grisham-Will Myers would probably be how the team breaks camp. And if minor league prospect C.J. Abrams forces his way to the big club as an outfielder, Myers could move to DH. And that would be available if the Padres can finally take care of one other transaction.
Will Eric Hosmer be on the Opening Day roster?
It is no secret that the Padres want Hosmer gone. They tried to unload him at the trade deadline last season and failed, and the bad feelings it generated in the clubhouse had much to do with the unraveling of the season. Hosmer, who still has three more years on his original eight-year, $144 million deal signed before the 2018 season, can’t hit, can’t field and can’t lead. Otherwise, he’s great.
With the new CBA increasing the competitive balance tax and Hosmer’s salary only paying $13 million a season for the final three years, starting in 2023, there should be a market for him somewhere. It’s also possible the Padres simply absorb their mistake and release him. But it is inconceivable that he will still be on the team on April 7.